This is the valley about five minutes’ walk from our house. I’m there most mornings ahead of the golfers, so, very early. The sun is not fully up and it is tingeing the mountains various shades of pink and orange that if you painted it people would say ‘that doesn’t look real’. But in person it does.
In this valley each morning I listen to the Pied Butcher Birds carolling to each other, practicing their glorious songs for all to hear. The Kites sweep the sky looking for early morning prey. Dingoes are ghosting along, dissolving into the scrub as if they are apparitions. On days when there are no dingoes I see kangaroos gliding across the fairways, racing to secret themselves away for a daytime sleep.
Occasionally I see other humans, some walking their dogs around the trails and we smile and greet each other—fellow nature lovers out in the wee hours. And just now the wee hours are hovering around freezing, zero if you are in the metric school of thought, 32 if you are of the Fahrenheit persuasion. I leave a trail, my breath blowing a pale white cloud after me as I puff up the hill to warm stiff muscles more quickly. At the crest of the hill, this valley stretches out its arms, never failing to impress still drowsy eyes.
It was down near the back of the buggy trail in this valley six months ago that I found the tiny, five month old joey, hissing and crying bitterly in its life threatening circumstance. I scooped him up, carrying him in my tee shirt, hurriedly back to the top of the hill and home to call for help. The Kangaroo Sanctuary came in an hour or so to collect him and we named him Amos. We surmised that his mother, in a bid for one or the other of them to survive, had jettisoned him from her pouch and into the cool air on the dusty track. Miraculously, he had escaped notice until I arrived.
A couple of days later I walked that trail again and could smell death all around. At least two bodies lay decaying in the hills of the valley. It was not a smell you would mistake. It saddened me to know that the little joey’s mum was probably one of them. For a while I couldn’t walk that way again.The reality was just too visceral.
For a couple of weeks the Kangaroo Sanctuary sent me regular photos and news of dear little Amos. He was healthy and had even started to grow some hair! And then, a week before we departed on our trip to the Southern Ocean, a message from the Sanctuary…Amos had suddenly declined and within less than two days had died. They told me this is the way it happens. Mostly they survive, but when they die, it is sudden, and for no apparent reason they can identify.
I could scarcely believe how much I had bonded with little Amos and how very sad I was that his life had ceased. I cried off and on all day when I found out. It was probably just as well that I couldn’t allow myself too much time to grieve because we had to prepare for the trip.
There has been so much sadness and hardship in the world since then, that I have not wanted to write this to you. Putting another sad thing out into the world seemed unnecessary, and probably still is, so I apologise. I kept waiting and hoping there would come some kind of clarity to me for the reason I would be chosen to save the tiny life and then have it taken away again. None came.
And then I remembered what Tahnee at the Sanctuary had said to me ‘You can take comfort in knowing he was safe and loved when he passed.’ His end was not violent, it was quiet and warm and in loving care.
Sometimes there are just no other reasons, there is just love.
It was a warm summer morning, a welcome couple of degrees cooler than the previous one, and with just enough breeze blowing to maybe keep some of the flies away. Ever since that cruel three millimetres of rain a couple of weeks previously, the one that literally rained mud, the mosquitoes and flies had been horrendous. I can stand the occasional fly, except in my mouth–oh yes, that has happened! But when the sticky ones come in droves and crawl around the moist corners of my eyes and nose, the romantic notion of living in the Outback is quickly replaced with annoyance.
I’d motivated myself to walk because I had been two days without walking, my main source of exercise, and my body needed it. The sun wasn’t over the horizon yet, but the glow was stunning by the time I reached the top of the hill, only a few minutes from our house. As is my habit, I scanned the surroundings while walking down the hill into the golf course valley. A couple of weeks prior I’d looked to my left at that very spot, and there, silently trotting along, were three dingoes, about fifteen feet away from me. They were not interested in me and a minute or so later I realised why. Coming around the corner was shirtless guy and his dog out for their morning run. I’m sure this was all just a little too much urban life for the dingoes who liked the cover of night for their running.
As I continued down the hill the sun crested the horizon. There were no other humans around at that moment so I walked, and listened. There is a point near the back of the course where the buggy path diverges into two, one to the left and one to the right, though they meet again at the same place. I saw a small dark ‘something’ in the middle of the left path. Was it moving? I got closer, expecting it to be a bird, feathers being ruffled by the breeze, perhaps. I had found dead birds in this area before. But as I got closer I realised, not only was the ‘something’ moving, it was hissing with what seemed like distress. And no wonder. A few feet closer I realised, it was a tiny kangaroo joey! This just didn’t compute in my brain. Of all the things I’d seen or ever thought I’d see, this was not one of them. Kangaroo mums usually keep their joeys safely inside the pouch…unless…perhaps it had been set upon by the dingoes! I had seen dead kangaroos in this little valley a few times, one morning I even saw a dingo feeding from a carcass. As I rushed up to grab the poor little thing, I simultaneously glanced around for immediate danger, and scanned the joey for injuries.
It seemed remarkably uninjured. And the scrub was quietly holding any secrets it might have. I held the joey close to my body, hoping it would feel the warmth through my tee shirt. It was very distressed and continued to make the hissing sound, but was not aggressive. Slowly, it began to feel the comfort in the rhythmic movement of my body walking rapidly home. Suddenly, nearby there was a young Indigenous man. He saw that I was cradling something and he came over to me. I told him I’d found it in the dirt. He was bewildered and then asked if I wanted him to take it…well actually he motioned that, I don’t think he spoke much English, as is common here. I thanked him and said ‘No, I know who to take it to’. At least I’d hoped I knew. He looked doubtful that this white-fella-woman would know how to care for it but I smiled and said thank you and wished him a good day.
A couple of minutes later I met the old Italian gentleman who walks his German Shepard most mornings. He saw what I was carrying and seemed very concerned. I told him I knew someone who could take care of it and he smiled and said ‘Oh, that’s good’ and gave me a thumbs up! His English wasn’t so great either, but at least I could speak a little Italian if necessary!
A minute or so later shirtless guy, running with his greyhound, came bounding down the hill and gave us an odd look. By this time the return walk seemed like it was taking forever with the wee one still distressed, so I just said good morning and kept moving. I imagine he wondered all day long what I was doing with a tiny joey cuddled in my arms. I know I would have!
I was on the home stretch and started trying to think of what I could put the joey in when I got it home, who I would call, and remembering gratefully this was Don’s morning to leave home later for his weekly commitment at the hospital. He would be there to help. When I got to the glass doors he saw me and came over and as he got closer he rushed to unlock it, having guessed what I was holding. “What have you got there?” I quickly explained to him what had happened and we set about on our divided tasks, he finding the phone number of The Kangaroo Sanctuary, and me finding an old pillow case or tee shirt to hold the joey.
Don took over nursing duty while I phoned the Kangaroo Sanctuary. We had visited the Sanctuary two and a half years before, and saw the love and dedication they gave their little rescued kangaroos and I knew if they couldn’t take the joey, they would know someone who could. Fortunately, Tahnee answered my call and said she was coming into to town in a little over an hour and she would collect little joey herself. This meant I could nurse the sweet little thing, and savour every moment until help arrived. As we sat quietly, joey nestled deeply into the old tee shirt, and quieted down. At one point I could feel his head, moving rhythmically, perhaps sucking on his paw, as they sometimes do. By the time Tahnee arrived, he was calmed down enough to definitely be looking for a teat to feed from. I had tried to give him a drink from a small cloth dipped in water, but he didn’t want that. He wanted the good stuff!
When Tahnee arrived I shared the story of finding the joey alone in the dirt and crying from distress. I explained to her there were regular sightings of dingoes in that area and she said most likely the mother was being chased and she pushed the joey from the pouch, hoping that one or the other of them would be saved. It is a survival strategy that a good Mama kangaroo would employ. She also informed me he was definitely a little boy, and that he was a ‘Euro’ which is a small variety of kangaroo. She said she could tell he was about five months old because his eyes were opened but he had no hair yet. He looked a little like an alien, in fact. He would probably just have begun poking his head out of the pouch at that stage, to get used to the sun, but he couldn’t stand or hop around yet—which was why I had found him laying down but with his head held up as he ‘hissed’. Hissing is the distress sound that a Euro makes, rather than a howl or a wailing sound other animals might make. It actually sounded a bit like wheezing, which alarmed me when I first got close to it. Tahnee said once he was calmed he wouldn’t make that sound all the time, which we had already seen when we were waiting for her to come.
Tahnee recognised me when I called for help at 6.30 that morning, as the person who owned a painting of one of their kangaroos, Queen Abi. Abi is a red kangaroo and is very cuddly and sweet with Tahnee, having been raised by her and Chris, the founder of the Sanctuary. We had actually met Queen Abi when we visited the Sanctuary. I wanted her to see the painting in person and so we showed her inside and she was amazed. She had pictured it as a much smaller work and was delighted to see that it took pride of place in our home. Once she had a look at the joey she asked if she could photograph us in front of the painting—a kind of full circle moment for all of us. She asked, very kindly if we had a name for him and I did. I told her he could be Amos. My Instagram name is ‘Amos the magic dog’, based on a name my Dad gave our lovely old cattle-dog-cross, Storm, over 18 years ago. Both Dad and Storm are gone, but ‘Amos the magic dog’ was what Dad called Storm, since he was kind of a magical little creature for both, appearing out of nowhere, and for disappearing just when you wanted him! He was magic, and so was Amos the joey, who appeared like magic at the perfect time and place for me to rescue him.
After they left, I suddenly remembered, the old tee shirt I had pulled from the drawer was one of Don’s from Sanctuary Cove. It seemed even more likely Amos was on his destined path, two sanctuaries in one day, what are the chances? Tahnee later sent me a video of Amos lapping water from her hand. I think he is a little survivor.
Most of Australia seems to have had atypical summer weather. Here in the Red Centre of the country, we had turned mostly green from higher than normal rainfall. But now things are turning golden and brown again as we settle back into hot, dry summer weather. As with all climates, when the weather changes, the insects and animals modify their reproduction and their habits to accomodate.At the moment we are having a plague of tiny grasshoppers eating every non-indigenous leaf in sight. You’d think we would learn, but we want our European herbs and fruit trees so we ignore the obvious and persevere.
Mantis in the basil
caterpillar in her best camoflage
I did see a hopeful sign in the basil patch this week, this very well camouflaged Mantis.
The equally camouflaged caterpillar was not such a welcome sight, but I took this photo in the river bed on a weed, not at home, so I’m hoping he prefers indigenous plants, especially weeds!
Last year we got up one morning to this sight on our patio. If you spotted the ‘roo poo’ amongst the ravaged Ponytail Palm pieces, you will have guessed the culprit. There are a couple of plants in our garden which seem to regularly piss off the locals that frequent us and they let us know about it. Recently, I saw on a program called Kangaroo Dundee (filmed here, near Alice Springs by the BBC and shown around the world, apparently) that the Roos will sort of box and tear at plants to practice their fighting skills against the other males in the mob. We have also been told that sometimes they are digging at the irrigation system for water that they can smell. Since keeping the large water bowl for them, we have fewer episodes, but still the occasional misadventure.
Palm minus its ponytail
Ponytail Palm, new growth
I’m happy to report, the Ponytail Palm survived and looks like it will be a nice shape again…eventually. This photo was taken over a month ago after one of the rains.
This big ole fella was in bad shape the first time he lumbered through our breezeway. We are thinking we might need to rename it the roo-way because they use it so often and seem to think it was built just for them. He visits every so often and I see him taking long drinks at the water bowl and he relaxes in the shade. A couple of nights ago just on dark we noticed him reclining happily in the boundary area near the compost bins. It was too dark to photograph him but, the next morning as I surveyed the outer kingdom, I saw his ‘hip hole’.
Old fella relaxing in the shade
Old fella, battered and tired
hip hole where ‘old fella’ rests
I thought I’d try my hand at posting my first video because I want you to hear the beautiful song of a Pied Butcherbird, a type of Magpie. They are not a colourful specimen like the parrots, but they are handsome in their own way. They ‘carol’ (sing), from our patio and nearby trees, sometimes for half an hour at a time. This juvenile is sitting on the edge of the sink practicing its little heart out. It is one of three babies born to a mother earlier in the season and we hear them fairly often. I hasten to add, Butcherbirds (YouTube link so that you can see and hear the bird closer) are not named this for nothing. I have seen them stalk a pigeon which must have been weak, and kill it with their strong pointed beaks, and devour it until all that was left were some feathers on the grass. That is nature for you.
Finally, a couple of days ago I made my way down the dark hallway at 5.30am, turned on the office light, looked down, and there, inches from my foot was this little darling. In 16 years of living in this house I have never seen a frog inside. This is arid land, surrounded by plains and desert. Rarely do we even see them outside unless we have just had a huge rain. We have not had rain for weeks now and whether or not this little fella was confused or caught in a time warp, I have no idea. He was fine with having his portrait taken, but when it came to catching him he was quite a challenge. First of all he was barely an inch long and I was trying to be gentle so I didn’t harm him. And secondly, he PEED, all over my hand and the floor—TWICE. Eventually I managed to gently trap him in my hand and put him outside, where I hope a hungry Butcher Bird didn’t swoop down and gobble him up!
I’m giving you a break from travel talk because I’m so tickled with a recent development here at Chateau ‘Z’. While we were away, a kangaroo adopted us! We see mobs (that is what a group is called) of kangaroo all the time, but we’ve never had a particular one visit us so consistently. He’s been around the neighbourhood for a while but lately he has decided the patch of gazanias I’ve left growing for kangaroos to eat during lean times, and the water bowl I keep full, suit him quite well. He isn’t here every day, but regularly makes an appearance. The tip of his tail is damaged, which easily identifies him but doesn’t seem to slow him down. I love watching him take off at a fast clip. They move with such grace, and agility, and in a way that is unlike any other animal. My friend tells me that often the older males get booted out of the mob and live on their own, like this one seems to be.
Using our breezeway as a thoroughfare.
I’ve been sneaking around with my iPhone taking photos for you. The above shot was taken through the vertical blinds. He would never let me get this close to him normally.
He drank for a long time at the bowl of water, probably 8-10 minutes the other day, then he hopped onto the golf course and nibbled grass for half an hour or so.
At the water bowl.
Taking a break from grazing.
Later on I went to empty scraps into the compost bin (foreground of the photo, sorry!) only to discover him about to make himself comfortable for an afternoon snooze. I tippy-toed back into the house, still carrying the scraps, and exchanged them for my iPhone. I tippy-toed out again and carefully sneaked the phone around the corner of the studio in hopes he would not notice it. He appeared to be about to rest, and then a minute later, I got a shot of him in full resting position.
Getting ready to rest.
In full relax mode.
It is such fun to have the privilege to watch him close up. I hope he continues to visit us regularly, but he is a wild animal adapting to an urban environment, and anything can happen. Do you think we should name him or is that tempting Fate?? Leave a suggestion if you do, and if he continues to visit we’ll give him a moniker!
Meanwhile—hooroo! (Australian slang for ‘goodbye’)